Artist: James McDowell
When a work of art depicts a real person or place, it becomes a record of a moment in time, in much the same way as a photograph. Art, however, lets the artist speak for him or herself in a way that photographs cannot.
In this painting of the Creston Museum, for example, James McDowell has combined many elements that could never be captured in a single photograph: artifacts from several exhibits in the Museum; the building itself; even the fact that the Museum is bursting with local history.
The twenty-two works of art in this exhibit all depict some part of the Creston Valley, at some point in its past. In some, the artists painted exactly what they saw; in others, art has altered history – or at least our perception of it.
This exhibit was first presented at the Creston Public Library in February 2011; we hope you enjoy this online version of it.
Indian Point, Wynndel
Artist: C. Ostrensky
This painting was taken from a 1912 photograph of a Ktunaxa camp near West Creston. Both the photo and the painting show the Valley in flood, with high water covering the entire flats. The artist, however, chose to move the scene several miles north, to Wynndel.
Despite this change, the painting is an accurate representation of local history: the Ktunaxa camped on the point at Wynndel for many years after the community had been established.
The artist is probably Charlie Ostrensky, a former Wynndel resident and mayor of Creston.
This is a reproduction of the original painting. The original still hangs in the house on the point in Wynndel, and has been sold with the house at least twice.
Artist: Margaret Moore
Anastasia’s name in the Ktunaxa language was Kiuki, which means “Broken Back.” She was a tiny person, increasingly bent-over with age. In her later years, Anastasia was unable to walk, and crawled from one place to another to carry out her tasks.
Anastasia was 104 when this portrait was painted. When she was born, about 1850, the Ktunaxa way of life followed the same patterns it had for centuries.
The Ktunaxa lived in harmony with the world around them, following the seasonal rhythms of hunting, fishing and gathering, and governed by the rise and fall of the Kootenay River. By the time Anastasia died, that traditional way of life had been almost swept aside by the encroachments of white settlement, modern technologies, and bustling infrastructure.
Artist: Margaret Moore
Date: Late 1950s
In this painting, Margaret Moore has beautifully captured the importance of children in the Ktunaxa society.
In the traditional society, women taught girls, and men taught boys, passing on the skills the children would need to fill their roles in the community. Grandparents also had a role in teaching children, caring for their grandchildren and passing on cultural traditions through storytelling.
Today, Yaqan Nuki School passes on the traditional Ktunaxa knowledge and language, preparing the students to become the teachers of future generations.
McGillivray’s River and Flatbow Lake
Artist: Captain Henry James Warre
In the early 1840s, tensions were rising between the British and American governments, over the southern boudary of what is now British Columbia. The British wanted all of the Columbia River, as far south as Astoria, WA; the Americans demanded all the territory to Parallel 54-40 North.
In 1845, the British sent Captain Warre and Lieutenant Mervin Vavasoeur into the area. Their mission was to locate a route to bring in the British Army, in the event the squabble led to war. Outbreak of a territorial war with Mexico in 1846 led the Americans to compromise at the 49th Parallel.
In 1846, Warre pubished the 80+ sketches he made, along with a brief description of the country they passed through. They are among the earliest illustrations of southern BC.
This watercolour is reproduced courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.
Date: Probably 1870s
David McLoughlin operated a windlass ferry across the Kootenay River, near the mouth of Summit Creek. It was small but serviceable, and when Edgar Dewdney built the Dewdney Trail through the Creston Valley, he opted to use McLoughlin’s Ferry rather than build an expensive bridge over the marshy flats.
McLoughlin arrived in the Creston Valley by 1865. He operated two fur trading posts in the Valley. The first, Fort Flatbow, was a Hudson’s Bay Company post located near the ferry.
When the HBC closed Fort Flatbow and Fort Sheppard (near Trail) in the early 1870s, McLoughlin acquired the left-over supplies from both and opened his second post, Little Fort Sheppard, near this cabin just south of the US border near Porthill.
Kootenay Lake / Farmhouse
Artist: Robert Stark
Date: Probably 1920s
Robert Stark was well-known in the Creston Valley as an orchardist. He came here from England about 1910, and established an orchard near the top of 16th Avenue North.
Stark grew very high-quality apples and pears on his fruit ranch, and in 1921 and 1922 even won medals at the Imperial Fruit Show in London. He also grew tulips, daffodils, and small fruits on his property.
From his ranch on the hill, Stark would have had a great view towards Kootenay Lake, and the farmhouse he painted might well have been his own.
Artist: Robert Stark
This watercolour is a bit of a puzzle. The back is marked very clearly with the name of the artist and the dates 1899-1900 – but Robert Stark’s obituary states that he came to the Creston Valley after 1910.
A 1920 tree fruit survey for Stark’s orchard supports this: none of his 1,600+ trees were more than ten years old. Perhaps he had toured the Valley ten years before moving here, and painted this view of the flats during that trip. It is certainly a good representation of how the unreclaimed flats would have looked in 1899.
Creston Flats, Below Wynndel
Artist: C. Hamilton
This painting is based on a postcard produced by the Creston Chamber of Commerce. The postcard was probably made in the 1970s or 1980s, and shows the rich agricultural lands on the Flats. Since the 1930s, the Flats have been home to excellent grain crops, as well as potatoes, peas, and, more recently, dairy herds.
The old Goat River Channel is visible in the foreground of the painting. In 1934, the Goat River was diverted into the Kootenay, as part of a project to reclaim the Flats from annual floods.
The painting was given to the Creston Museum by long-time resident Jean Henderson, and she got it from Lorna Lytle of Crawford Bay – but who C. Hamilton is or was remains a bit of a mystery.
Artist: William Bayliss
William Bayliss came to Crawford Bay in 1904. Other than a few years when he returned to Wales to work in the coal mines, he lived at Crawford Bay until his death in 1946, painting and farming with his brother Robert.
Bayliss did many paintings of the scenes surrounding him, selling a few but more often giving them away. After William’s death, Robert maintained an art gallery of his brother’s work.
In these watercolours, the Nasookin is portrayed as she appeared at her launch in 1912. However, her upper deck had been removed ten years before these paintings were done.
These paintings were loaned for this exhibit by Michael Colonel of Creston. He found them while helping to clean out a house in High River: they were in a load of trash and discarded items intended for the dump.
Kootenay Lake Road
Date: Possibly 1950s
This colourised photograph shows the narrow, dirt-surface highway that snaked along the shores of Kootenay Lake in the not-so-distant past.
Construction of the Kootenay Lake road began in 1929. Rough as it was by today’s standards, the highway represented a major transportation link for the communities along the lake. Previously, sternwheelers provided the only connection to the outside world.
The Kootenay Lake road has been improved may times since then, including a major project to widen it in 1969-1970.
Date: Probably 1980s
This is a relatively recent photograph, but it serves as a reminder of the importance of the wharf throughout the history of Kuskanook.
There was a wharf at Kuskanook by 1900, when the town was the terminus for the Great Northern Railway. The GNR stopped its service by 1910, and Kuskanook declined. The construction of the “new” wharf in 1921 signaled a new lease on life for the community.
Sternwheelers such as the SS Nasookin used the wharf at Kuskanook to transport passengers, all sorts of freight including farm equipment and crates of fruit, and even automobiles, to and from the community.
Artist: Grace Cherbo
The Canadian Pacific Railway built its line through the Creston Valley in 1898, and this station was built a few years later to handle the passengers, freight, and mail. The CPR was the lifeline of the community: everything came in or went out by train, and daily rituals followed the CPR’s schedule.
Although this painting, and many photos, make the station appear isolated, it was very central: alongside the principal businesses; a few steps away from hotels and boarding houses; and near major freight shippers such as the packing sheds.
For years the train station was a meeting place: a place to say goodbye to friends and family, collect or send their packages, and greet them when they returned. Some people even met their future spouses at the train station. But all that changed with private cars and trucking companies.
The old station was torn down in 1949.
View From the Tower
Artist: Irene Dickie
This painting, on loan for the exhibit from Kendra Lee, is based on a photograph taken in the 1920s. It looks northwest from the top of the CPR’s water tower. On the left are the train station and some of the houses below the tracks. Bob Lamont’s real estate office stands alone on the right, with the Presbyterian Church in the background.
The original photo was taken by Jean Henderson, who often climbed tall structures to take photos in all directions. By 1943, she had the grain elevators and Sunset Seed to use, instead of the water tower. Jean’s photos give us an excellent record of how the community has changed over the years. The same view, in 1974, shows a number of differences in the buildings, and the train station and water tower are long gone.
The Rykert House
John Charles Rykert, former member of the Northwest Mounted Police, was the first customs agent in the Creston Valley. In 1883, he established the customs post south of Creston that now bears his name.
Ella Wells Rykert was the daughter of the founder of Wells-Fargo Express. She joined her husband in what was then an extremely isolated spot of the Kootenays, and, by all accounts, threw herself enthusiastically into frontier life.
They built their large house just a few hundred feet north of the original log customs house, and immediately alongside the Great Northern Railway tracks. A small boat landing on the Kootenay River, also only a short distance from the house, gave Mr. Rykert direct access to all north-south traffic.
West Creston Hall
Artist: Bruce Patterson
Date: November 1987
The “Old West Creston Hall” was built in 1938, as the community’s second schoolhouse. A photo of the 1941-1942 school class – the last one to use the school – suggests that the entrance had been changed as part of the renovations the building had undergone over the years.
Bruce Patterson captured the West Creston Hall in its final days: the following April, it was demolished.
This pen-and-ink sketch of the West Creston Hall was donated to the Creston Museum by Margaret Berg. A long-time resident of West Creston, she attended many of the dances, meetings, and community celebrations held in the old hall.
Artist: Margaret Moore
In 1916, Ivan O’Neil competed in the Calgary Stampede. He was the youngest competitor that year, being only 24 years old. That early start with livestock would serve him well for the rest of his life.
O’Neil lived in the Creston Valley for thirty years, moving here in 1929 with his wife, Ruth State-Smith, whose parents were long-time residents. Here, he was a livestock dealer and auctioneer.
Apparently, he was a very good auctioneer: in November 1943, as part of a war-time fundraiser, he auctioned off a pig for $6,200 worth of Victory Bonds. He died in 1959.
The artist, Margaret Moore, moved to the Valley in 1959. She died in January 2010.
First Nations Children
Artist: Chris Herchmer
Chris Herchmer was a well-known Creston Valley artist. Her career began in portraiture, and her first subjects were often local residents including former mayor and town booster Tak Toyota.
Working with her sister, Jeanette Ford, Chris created a series of portraits of First Nations children. At the time, there was a market for this sort of portrait, especially in Alberta. However, Chris did so many of these images that she eventually grew tired of them. Chris then turned to her true passion in art: wildlife.
Chris’ daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter are all artists, and all live in the Creston Valley.
Artist: Phyllis Laage
Ring-necked pheasants are not a native species: the first ones were brought into the Creston Valley as game birds in 1912 by Dr. Henderson and Guy Constable. They were shipped in a wicker crate from a nursery in the Okanagan.
As the Creston Review announced in May 1913, when these first birds were released, they were protected until the poopulation grew large enough to support hunting.
Today, the distinctive ringing call of the ring-necked pheasants can be heard all over the Creston Valley.
This painting hangs in Erickson Golden Manor in Creston, BC. It was loaned for this exhibit courtesy of the Creston Art Club.
Artist: Marion Clayton
Date: Probably mid-1930s
Efforts to harness the hydroelectric potential of the Goat River began early in the Creston Valley’s history, as early as 1908. The optimism at that time, though, was unfounded: more than two decades would pass before the power dam was built.
West Kootenay Power finally began building the dam the Goat River in 1932. This sketch, on a framed sign at the dam, shows the dam as it looked when it went into operation in September 1933.
The sign itself hung on a house near the dam, occupied by Sid Parker. Mr. Parker was the manager of the power plant, and probably made the sign.
The Art of Agriculture
It might be found in beautiful, scenic views. It might appear in perfectly-packed boxes of apples. It might be represented by an impeccably-groomed animal.
Whatever shape it takes, agriculture is art.
It is not, however, art for art’s sake alone; it is an economic necessity.
For example, unblemished fruit, carefully polished and packed in precise rows, does not just look good: the art of doing so is rewarded with higher prices at market. This is why the awarding of trophies at the Creston Valley Fall Fair has been based on the quality of presentation.
Colourful fruit labels are works of art in themselves. They also served as a brand to market the community’s fruit and to entice buyers. And, by depicting all the best characteristics of the Creston Valley, the fruit labels promoted the community in a way few other products could.